St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer Andrew Cutraro says that relations between himself and the Marines started off roughly when he was embedded with the Third Battalion, Seventh Regiment at the beginning of 2003's war in Iraq. "At first they viewed me with great detachment, apprehension and skepticism, but after we first got shot at" -- he laughs -- "we formed a common bond -- that earned their respect, and I think they loosened up a bit."
Thirty photos taken by Cutraro in Iraq for the Post have been redeveloped in arty black-and-white and are on view through January 31 at Gallery Urbis Orbis (419 North Tenth Street, 314-406-5778, www.urbis-orbis.com). Among the compelling images is a close-up of a Marine who's painted his face to look like a skull, like the bank robbers from the movie Dead Presidents. Another shows Iraqi civilians who ran through a roadblock and were shot by the Marines, only to be subsequently cared for by U.S. medics.
There's a great story behind that last one, Cutraro explains. One of the Marines tried to prevent the photographer from taking photos of the civilians injured by U.S. fire; other soldiers intervened, disagreeing with their comrade, eventually permitting Cutraro to take the photos. (At www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/flash/photo/world/iraq/warphotogs/index.htm, you can hear an audio clip of Cutraro recounting the tale.)
That's a good example of the mixed blessing of embedding the media with troops, Cutraro says. He says he didn't want to "appear to be a stooge of the government, broadcasting almost propaganda-like images of victory back home" during his 31 days in Iraq. He has a balanced view of his role in the affair, though; as far as showing the rest of the world what's going on in a war zone (which he has previously done in Afghanistan and Israel), tagging along with American forces has its benefits and its drawbacks, he says -- including issues of life and death.
"That's the delicate balance that you have to entertain when you're covering a war," he says. "That is, where can I be that I'm close enough to get pictures but not close enough to get killed."